My 17-year-old son was stranded.
He called in the evening just after dark. Chance was at a friend’s house about 30 minutes away, and the car had overheated. I grabbed some anti-freeze and headed off.
The car wasn’t much of a problem. The real adventure was the drive back home…
My son is a good driver, but he’s still a bit uncomfortable in some situations, and freeways are still intimidating. But for the trip home, at that time of night, I didn’t want to take the same back roads he had driven to get there. It would have made the 30-minute drive into 45 or 50 at least. Besides, it was after ten o’clock and the freeways were always pretty calm by then.
So, I told him, “Just watch my taillights and follow me, Son. It will be fine.” Then I drove straight for the freeway.
Well, it was almost straight. I circled a roundabout twice before I found the on-ramp to the freeway. (Later, Chance asked if I was just trying to confuse him.)
Then, it turned out we had timed our departure perfectly with the end of the Royals’ baseball game, so a whole herd of traffic came zooming up from behind and overtook us. And of course I didn’t want to go too fast with Chance following me, so cars were zig-zagging around and in between us almost constantly. That craziness continued most of the way home, and I could only imagine what my son was thinking in the car behind me.
We both made it home safely. But as I’ve thought about it since then, it struck me that our little adventure was like a parable for a father’s role, illustrating our research-based fundamentals of Loving, Coaching, and Modeling for our children.
First, because we have a pretty good relationship and Chance knows I love him, he knew he could call me and I’d come and help him. And once on the road, he trusted me not to do anything crazy.
I also coached him: “Here’s what you need to do, Son. I know you can do this; you’ll be fine.”
Then, of course, I told him to “Follow me,” so I had to be a reliable model for how to get home safely.
It’s amazing when I stopped to think about it: Chance actually followed me when I got confused and went in circles for a few minutes. On the freeway, he slowed down when I slowed down. When I sped up, he did the same. At one point, I left my blinker on without realizing it, and Chance moved into the lane he thought I was going to take. He was really depending on me to guide him through that challenging situation.
Dads, on the roads of life, we send our children all kinds of signals through our words and especially through our actions, and we have an awesome responsibility to lead them in the right way. Often, life’s freeway is unpredictable and dangerous for them, with cars going every which way. Sometimes other drivers might cut them off or curse at them. It’s easy for them to get scared, distracted, confused, or get in the wrong lane. They might panic and crash the car, or they could easily take a wrong turn, where it will take a lot of extra time just trying to get back on track.
Maybe today is simply a reminder that our children really do need us to be there for them; we play a huge role in their lives, and we need to make the most of our opportunities with them.
Also, we mustn’t forget that there are millions of kids out there who are vulnerable, possibly without direction. They don’t have a dad to call when they get in a tough situation. There’s no responsible man there to tell them, “Follow me and it will be okay.” “You’re a winner. You can do this.” Maybe you’re in a position to be that father figure and offer some encouragement and guidance.
Have you had an experience as a dad that’s a graphic illustration of your role, like this one was for me? I’d be interested your feedback. Please leave a comment on our Facebook page.
Action Points for Dads on the Journey
- Have your children help give you directions when you’re driving—even if they are pretty young. “Where should I turn to get to our house?” Make sure they know how to get home.
- What potential “wrong turn” might your child be tempted to take in the coming months? Talk about it with your child’s mother, and then initiate a discussion or take another constructive action to help guide your child through that time.
- What’s the one most important virtue or lesson your child needs right now? Find ways to demonstrate it through your actions in the next week.
- Let your children catch you reading—often.
- Take your son or daughter on a date or a fun outing together, and talk through what they should expect when they’re on a date and how to avoid “dangerous” situations.
Carey Casey is the CEO of the National Center for Fathering, a nonprofit organization seeking toimprove the lives of children and establish a positive fathering and family legacy that will impact future generations by inspiring and equipping fathers and father figures to be actively engaged in the life of every child. We encourage you to help us change the culture of fathering in America by joining the Championship Fathering Team. You can also sign up for Carey’s weekly email tips by clicking here: “Yes! I want tips on how to be a great dad who lives out loving, coaching and modeling for my children.